When my baby looks into my eyes and smiles a big two-bottom-teeth grin, I am so happy. And, in truth, that about sums up how unrecognizable my life and goals are compared to the life I used to have.
I was never going to have kids. I was a career woman. I was a feminist! Indeed, I was happily defined by my pregnancy-abstaining, career-obsessed ways. Hell, I even had published articles on the satisfaction of living life child free. Certainly, I was never going to be a stay-at-home mom. And I really did not want a destiny of sexless mom-jeans, sticky fingerprints and carpools. I did not want to lose my career. More than anything, I did not want to lose myself completely — my identity. Who am I if I am not a writer? Ambitious? A career woman? Am I even a productive citizen if I don’t leave the house everyday?
So, how did I get here? The (tired) stay-at-home feminist? It was a very uncomfortable, uneasy journey to happiness. Yes, happiness. Joy. And love, love, love.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sell you a ticket to “you can only be happy as a woman if you become a mother.” That, my friends, is total bullshit. If you are not happy, motherhood will not cure your blues. Motherhood is fucking hard work! I found my bliss before I became a mother. And that allowed me to open up to the possibility that becoming a mother was an adventure that would be fulfilling, challenging and, yes, wonderful.
For me, I had to get through a lot of other stuff before I was even open to the idea of motherhood. I had to deal with chronic health issues that had effectively drained me physically and emotionally. It is hard to imagine the idea of possibility when you are losing all hope. And I had to deal with some emotional baggage from childhood; the only way through it is to feel your feelings, as gut-wrenchingly awful as that may be sometimes.
So, in 2007 I walked away from my day job, as a reporter at CityLife, and I embarked on a quest to heal my body and (maybe) find my happiness. It scared the shit out of me but I was pretty sick with a hereditary immune system disorder (it manifests as a lot of hospital-level-serious allergies, asthma and other system problems). Managing being that sick had made me depressed, no doubt about it. But when I thought about it, I realized that there was a part of me that had always been sad. No matter how good life was for me, and it had been — great marriage, successful career, wonderful friends, financial stability — I was still always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was always looking around the corner for doom. If you’re never in the moment of happiness, how can you ever enjoy life? Indeed, I believed I was unworthy of happiness; that’s a terrible way to go through life. But when I quit my job in 2007 babies were nowhere on my radar. Not even on the map. In fact, I didn’t really think I was going to discover that much about myself. What I thought I’d do is start some new medical therapies, try running, do some yoga and drop some pounds. Maybe I’d ruminate on a few things here and there. I didn’t really have a plan, but if I did it was something like: Get healthy; Get happy; Go back to work; Done.
My naiveté was stunning.
Here’s what really happened: I quit my job in June 2007. I dyed my hair blond with pink streaks and spent my first weeks organizing the local Fag Bug events. I went to my best friend’s Buddhist wedding and I stayed up late watching movies with my baby brother (on break from college). Then my brother went home. Then my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer two weeks before my 31st birthday. Then all the emotions I ever had or thought about came pouring out of me. I raged. I cried. I seethed. I didn’t want to think anymore. I got rid of fucking pink streaks in my hair and Hello Kitty handbags. I started meditating. I sucked at meditating. A very good man who was an important father-figure to me was dying. It was time to get my shit together. Once and for all. I grew up.
Then one quiet, winter afternoon I sat alone with my thoughts and I realized that what really ached in my heart — more than surviving molestation (which fucking sucks), more than alcoholics, more than growing up poor, more than my fear of divorce because both my parents are serial-divorcers. No, more than any of those things, what really ached in my heart was that deep down I believed my own mother did not love me. She had all but said it many, many times. She told me how she wished she had an abortion; how I had ruined her chances to go to college, have a successful career, have a thin body. (As an adult I know that these things are not true. She had a very successful career that she left of her own accord. She could have gone back to college at any time, as her own sisters with families did. Etc. But I had taken these ideas as a child, without the tools to understand.) Over and over and over. It was a broken mantra. And it cut deep. If my own mother wished I had never been born — wished I did not exist — how could I be worthy of anything, especially something as precious as love? And if I am unlovable…well, no wonder I was never fully happy.
In that quiet moment something huge happened inside me. And I recognized the feeling. It was the same feeling I had in therapy when I realized that I am not just Molestation Survivor. I am Emmily. The abuse does not own me. It does not define me. And while it hurt to think about how my mother had treated me, it was also liberating. I did not need to carry around a feeling I was unworthy, unlovable. Obviously, my husband loves me. My father loves me. My in-laws, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends… There was a lot of evidence that I was, in fact, quite lovable. And when I talked to my father-in-law about this, he told me that it was good to put these old hurts away for good. “Don’t let the past drag you down. Let go of the pain. Life is too short.” How can you argue with a dying man?
So, I let go. I let go of the pain I had been holding inside me for, well, probably my entire life. And as I did that I started to feel a kind of elation, a joy, a happiness and a feeling that I was bursting with love! Bursting! I trained for my first 5K and finished in 53 minutes. I grieved at the loss of my father-in-law a little over a month later; followed a month later by my young cousin (of a rare form of cancer). And when my husband and I started to come out of our grief, the world we awoke to was that much better. It was better because I didn’t live under a cloud of misery and doubt anymore. And that left me open to be happy, live in the moment, be completely vulnerable with my husband… and explore possibilities.
What if you don’t really know what you want until you question everything you think is set in stone? What if you want something you never thought you’d want before? And what if that desire throws everything you ever thought about who you are on its head? Sounds like an adventure…